Idol heads to Hollywood, where finally the attention shifts from the fireworks between judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey to the contestants competing to be the next American Idol. All the contestants collected from across the country, from the streets of New York City to the open roads of Oklahoma, are gathered in Hollywood hoping to make it far enough to sing on live television.
This year, Idol is shaking things up by dividing Hollywood Week by gender, and the boys get to go first. The first round is a solo a cappella, which Keith Urban compared to The Hunger Games. While I had high hopes of a Battle Royale-meets-American Gladiators style fight to the death, all he meant was that it was "sudden death," and those who didn't move forward in the competition went home to watch on their couches like the rest of us schlubs.
The next level of competition was the dreaded group round, but once again Idol changed things up, by assigning groups. This move eliminated the always tedious television watching as people practiced the gruesome art, honed on primary school playgrounds, of picking teammates, but it also meant that all the drama we saw was handpicked and probably handcrafted by the producers. That said, while Hollywood Week is usually a grueling slog for viewers, there were some highlights, including some truly stand-out performances, a few middling ones that got past the judges anyway and more than a few god-awful ones that we will hopefully never have to speak of again. And apparently no one can remember the words to Maroon 5's "Payphone," even if their career depends on it.
Here are the highlights of Hollywood Week, Boys Edition:
Nicki screamed "My favorite group! My favorite group!" as the team calling themselves B-Side left the stage. While no one, not even Gurpreet Singh Sarin (who they still insisted on calling the Turbanator), was able to remember the words to "Payphone," each member managed to forget the words with flair. Proving that on Idol style is worth more than substance, they were all put through, even though Keith called it "the wackiest shit he's ever seen."
Papa Peachez blamed his group's wavering rendition of "American Boy" on a clash of personalities, so Most Honest Judge Ever Nicki pointed out, "If you win this competition, the personalities will be out of this world." She then reminded Peachez that he had to step up because she can't stick up for him any more. With that sage advice firmly in hand, he along with teammates Adam Sanders and Charles Allen all advanced to the next round. That left Frankie Ford, who had spent much of his audition time crying and kvetching and then forgot all the words to the song, as the sole team member to be asked to leave. His teammates tried to console him, but he wanted to be left alone to cry and shake his fist at the heavens, Scarlett O'Hara-style and swear he's coming back next year.
David Leathers Jr., who was shockingly eliminated last year, was teamed up with Kevin Quinn, Kayden Stephenson and Christian youth leader Sanni in a Kidz Bop version of One Direction. Kayden killed Mariah because he's adorable and has a terminal illness, but was kind of pitchy and forgot the words, leaving the judges no choice but to send him home. David and Sanni advanced, while Kayden took his elimination in stride and promised to return next year.
The performance by basso baker Gabe Brown, Nick Boddington (who has creepily iridescent blue doll eyes), Mathenee Treco and Matheus Fernandes rendered the judges completely ridiculous, with Mariah waving as Keith and Randy Jackson giggled, cheered and fist-pumped a few times. All four went through.
Producers paired army sergeant Trevor Blakney with "resident divas" JDA and Joel Wayman, who made the most of their differences and formed the aptly named Country Queens. Their performance was marred only by the irony of Trevor and JDA forgetting all the words to "More Than Words." JDA failed with style, though, and was able to continue in the competition with Joel.
Lazaro Arbos, the Cuban stutterer who melted our hearts in the Chicago auditions, hadn't heard the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" before being asked to sing it with his group. His performance was shrug-inducing, but so were the rest in his group. His teammate Josh Stephens earned no points for sportsmanship – he cried about his elimination and then fully blamed Lazaro for his failure.
Best Lesson: Do not choose to sing One Direction; everyone who did screwed it up.
Best Grouchy Randy Moment: Cortez Shaw's performance of "I Will Always Love You" earned him a flat "You ain't Whitney."
Contestant to Watch: Gabe Brown, the baker with a barreling voice.
Previously: Auditions Are a Drag for Steven Tyler